It looks like the ghosts haunting the Historic Calumet Inn in Pipestone may not have to celebrate the hotel’s 130th anniversary by themselves this Thanksgiving.
Tammy Grubbs, who just took over the Calumet, narrowly headed off its closure by the city in late August when she hired a contractor to repair the crumbling stone facade on the south wall.
Doug Fortune, Pipestone’s building and zoning director, told the City Council at its Aug. 20 meeting that he had tried for a year to get two previous owners to repair the wall, where the hotel’s only handicapped-accessible entrance is located. He said in an e-mail last week that the hotel’s condition had worsened substantially since last year.
“We’ve had stones fall on three different locations,” Fortune told council members. He added that windows had fallen from the building and the chimney has some loose stones.
“It doesn’t matter who owns the hotel,” Fortune said. “But it’s a hazardous building at this point and I have to take action.”
Grubbs agrees that the pink jasper quartzite walls desperately need tuck-pointing. The individual rocks are huge, she said in a recent interview: “They’re like, 100 pounds.” She said she had been lining up a contractor before the August meeting but couldn’t start the work because she didn’t yet have title to the building.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Calumet Inn was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style in 1883 by Close Brothers and Co., an English speculator, as railway traffic expanded in Pipestone.
A fire gutted the building in 1886, but it reopened on Thanksgiving Day 1888. The First National Bank opened its headquarters in the building, which eventually added two stories with 90 rooms. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was among the hotel’s guests.
Another fire scorched the south section of the hotel in 1944. It quickly reopened but declined over several decades, and the state fire marshal closed it as unsafe in 1978. It reopened in 1981 after a major renovation. It now has 40 guests rooms, 36 of which are operational.
Vanda Smrkovski, a Minneapolis resident, said she and her family bought the property out of foreclosure in August 2012 for $300,000 and set about trying to restore and sell it. Under her ownership, the hotel landed on Gordon Ramsay’s “Hotel Hell” program and the Travel Channel’s “Resort Rescue” program. She made improvements over the three years she ran it, including a new air conditioner and roof, drywall repairs and new kitchen equipment.
Smrkovski’s family sold the Calumet on a contract for deed in June 2015 to three Texas men for $800,000. Grubbs said they tried to make improvements but the cash flow didn’t pay the bills.
Grubbs is first and foremost an artist. She was the resident artist last year at Pipestone National Monument and was chosen to decorate Minnesota’s Christmas tree last year at the White House. But she said she also has experience turning around struggling businesses, and was hired in January to help the hotel.
Grubbs launched a coffeehouse that went from a few customers to a packed house, but it wasn’t enough. The Texans gave the hotel back to Smrkovski, who then sold it to Grubbs for $500,000.
Grubbs said she’s trying to stay positive. She’s raising money for the tuck-pointing work with donations, a loan and a possible state Legacy Fund grant. Estimates to repair the building’s exterior run from $75,000 to $200,000. Troy Stanga, project manager with Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Ronning Cos., which is working on the south wall, said they’ll have a better estimate once they strip the stone away from the south wall.
A paranormal group has booked some rooms in January, Grubbs said. Throughout the years, guests have noted what they believe are ghosts in a book at the front desk. Some have complained of a jukebox in the pub playing late at night, and others have reported messages appearing on their bathroom mirrors when they’re in the shower. Still others have reported unwanted calls, though it’s impossible to call the rooms without going through the switchboard.
Smrkovski said she hopes Grubbs can maximize the hotel’s potential.
“You can only succeed with that place when you surrender to it and allow it to be your teacher,” she said. “That place was my spiritual teacher, for sure — the Calumet and Pipestone.”